As a Youth Pastor I’ve spent time under three Senior Pastors. I’ve always felt I’ve had a good relationship with them. I know I had the support of them throughout my time with them, and I also feel I supported them well, no matter the circumstances. It may well be the loyalty instinct I have within me, but I have resolved from very early on to back my Senior Pastor to the hilt.
The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor dynamic is an interesting one. It is not often talked about in public. I’ve never been to a workshop about how to relate to my Senior Pastor or been provided with much training in how to navigate this relationship. If such a workshop was ever offered at a youth ministry conference I suspect it would be highly attended.
I say this because I believe the main reason Youth Pastors leave churches is because they don’t have a good working relationship with their superior. I don’t have any empirical evidence for this statement, but anecdotally I’ve observed the main reason for Youth Pastors moving on is breakdown in relationship with the Senior Pastor.
I spent six months in a denominational role a couple of years ago caring for Youth Pastors who were having a tough time. The topic of conversation, whenever I met with them, was their relationship with the Senior. Sometimes it was simply wanting to get things off their chest and once that was done there was a sense of freedom. Other times the relationship had broken down to the extent that the Youth Pastor decided to leave.
This is not to say the Senior Pastor is at fault. Not at all. This is not to say that all Youth Pastors leave because of this. Not at all.
If the relationship between the Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor is not great then it is hard to provide a healthy ministry for the church.
With this being said, what are some questions worth asking surrounding this topic? How can this working relationship improve for the betterment of the church?
First, the expectations about the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship need to be set at the time of advertising the position.
A clear understanding between Senior and Youth Pastor about how they will work together is worth talking through as early as possible. It is one thing for the Youth Pastor to tick the boxes in terms of competency and character, another thing in regard to chemistry.
Being able to talk through the way the church see the position operating gives helpful insight into the working relationship. One role might be for the Youth Pastor to fulfil a set of tasks and “look after the young people”. Another role might include more oversight and leadership and therefore wider conversations with the Senior Pastor would be required.
Questions worth asking at an interview might include:
- How often do you expect to meet up with me as the Youth Pastor?
- What kind of information about the ministries I lead as Youth Pastor do you require?
- Do you see this Youth Pastor role as one that is mainly about fulfilling tasks or is there an element of growth to it?
- What kind of availability do you have (as Senior Pastor) if I would like to talk to you (as Youth Pastor)?
Second, is there a growing relationship that includes the Youth Pastor being seen as an actual ‘Pastor’?
For many years it has been common for Youth Pastors to be seen as lowly staff workers for the church. They are really just paid ministry leaders who are ‘looking after the young people’ and not really a significant voice in the life of the church. If this is the first ministry role for the Youth Pastor and they haven’t got many runs on the board then this might be a fair way of operating, as long as the training and development is also happening alongside. But for a Youth Pastor who has been in ministry for a while it might be time to explore areas where they can continue to help grow the church. This could be in pastoral care to parents and families, developing small groups, or having more teaching responsibilities. The point is, when the position is advertised and the relationship with the Senior is defined, does the Youth Pastor actually become a Pastor in the church or are they more a Youth Director or Worker?
Third, regular check-ins and one-on-ones between Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor are vital.
If I didn’t meet with my Senior Pastors I wouldn’t have developed as quickly nor would I have felt respected. Surely, a working relationship means meeting regularly with fellow pastoral team members, no matter what size the church is. In the majority case, where it is a Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor on staff, then this seems even more vital. Putting the principles of leadership and management aside, I don’t actually know how a working relationship can work when the Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor don’t meet up, talk about the church and its members, check-in with how each other are going, and learn, develop and grow together. I don’t have a category for this, it seems so basic. Yet, I hear numerous times a year of Senior and Youth Pastors never meeting except on a Sunday morning or at a whole church event. Such a shame.
If there was one thing a Senior Pastor could schedule in to help the relationship it would be a regular one-on-one meet up with their Youth Pastor. If there was one thing a Youth Pastor could seek to encourage their Senior Pastor to do, it would be to meet up with them. This isn’t to add an extra to-do item, this is an opportunity for growth, development, and passing on the faith and ministry. This is an opportunity for discipleship.
I know we now live in a different era. I know that Senior Pastors of the past would operate as the sole pastor of a church. They would have a church of 200-300 people and the pastoral team would consist only of them. But times have changed, there’s more emphasis on team ministry, and the current generation of Youth Pastors coming through are crying out for mentoring, coaching, discipleship (whatever you call it) in ministry. They want to be led, and they want to follow. They want to talk about, observe and experience a variety of opportunities that will help them grow as people and as pastors.
The greatest opportunity for a Senior Pastor to have influence is through their Youth Pastor.
Fourth, is there mutual respect between the Senior and Youth Pastor?
Respect and trust within the pastoral team would seem obvious. This does develop over time, but can also be damaged along the way. This relationship doesn’t mean everyone needs to be best buddies but it should have trust and respect within it.
Ways to foster this mutual respect and trust would be to:
- Meet regularly.
- Take an interest in each others lives, not just about the ministry.
- Speak positively of the other, in public meetings and private conversations with church members.
- Share openly about the struggles and challenges of life, faith and ministry to one-another.
- Speak clearly and directly when any disagreements arise (in private).
Fifth, understand the line of authority in the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship.
At the end of the day the Senior Pastor is the main leader of the local church. They have more responsibility placed on their shoulders than anyone else in the church. They not only have pastoral oversight but at the end of the day they are the boss or manager, whichever sounds nicer for you.
As a Youth Pastor I don’t know half of what is coming across the desk of my Senior Pastor. I don’t know the issues he is dealing with most weeks. I know the main things he has responsibility for and what he is up to but whatever it is it’s a lot more than what I have to deal with. This doesn’t minimise any of the issues, problems, or challenges I have as a Youth Pastor. But, one of those particular tasks as a Senior Pastor is pastoral team management, which includes me as Youth Pastor. But as a Youth Pastor I need to recognise that I don’t have overall responsibility for the church. I have responsibility for part of the church and am committed to the ministry, but even that is under the supervision and leadership of the Senior Pastor.
I hope this has been helpful for you. What kind of relationship do you have with your Senior Pastor?